Beethoven • Mozart: String Quartets
Coming, as it does, after the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s successful recording of Mozart’s Dissonance and Schubert’s Rosamunde quartets (reviewed Christmas 2011), also on the Aparté label, this new disc is something of a disappointment. It’s true that there’s some finely-judged pianissimo playing here, especially effective in Beethoven’s dramatic and highly concentrated Serioso Quartet Op. 95, but in other respects these are pale and colourless performances; not even the personality of the quartet’s formidably gifted first violinist, Alina Ibragimova, can more than momentarily bring them to life.
With the absence of vibrato in historically-aware playing such as this, warmth of tone tends in any case to be at a premium, but what’s so often missing here, and particularly from the inner members of the ensemble, is intensity of expression. In particular, the first two movements of Mozart’s K428 Quartet are perhaps the most ‘abstract’ and cerebral of all his chamber pieces, and they need more imaginative shaping and shading – and, in the case of the opening Allegro, greater rhythmic incisiveness – than the Chiaroscuro players give them.
The Adagio and Fugue, K546, is often played as a string quartet, though Mozart actually had an orchestral ensemble in mind (the fugue is a transcription of a piece originally written for the weight of two pianos), and the Handelian Adagio seems to lack grandeur and solemnity in the Chiaroscuro’s performance. The Beethoven makes more of an impression, but the disc as a whole is, I fear, less than compelling.